Six days had passed since the Horde moved against the Night Elves in Ashenvale. As the forest burned in Kalimdor, no one could escape the smell of smoke, no matter where they went the ash and burning debris was sure to follow.
Astranaar had already fallen. Countless Night Elves had lost their lives in the attack. Now, as the sun was setting on another day of chaos and confusion, Fÿnn was losing hope.
A campfire was no longer necessary to stay warm here on the coast. The heat from the massive fires blew across the beaches, making everyone in heavy armor sweat profusely. The Night Elves wore garments that barely covered their flesh, but most of the Alliance reinforcements in the area had been decked out in their usual armor when they answered the call for help. Most of those individuals had also started to give in, tossing aside heavy shoulder pads or thick leggings in exchange for a little breathable air.
Fynn had lost his helmet during a scuffle with an undead rogue, but he retained the rest of his gold and blue plate armor, unwilling to make himself an easy mark by removing other pieces.
“It’s got to feel like an oven in there,” Syanna said as she stepped over to the paladin and handed him his nightly ration of bread and dried cheese. “The wall of wisps appears to be holding the Horde at bay. You should relax.”
“Relax?” Fynn asked, trying to imply in his tone how absurd the very idea of relaxing was at a time like this. “Last week I was preparing to participate in a surprise attack against the Horde as they moved on Silithus. Now I’m sitting here hoping we don’t get burned alive before the Alliance forces arrive. How can I relax?”
“The might of the Horde has been stopped by one Night Elf,” Syanna countered. “Their fleets sail north from Silithus and, as we speak, the Alliance is bringing troops to aid us here in Darkshore. The Horde caught us off our guard, that’s the truth, but the Alliance will stand strong against them now.”
Fynn wished he had Syanna’s confidence in the situation.
Malfurion had stopped the Horde’s advance, but he’d only done so with a massive wall of wisps, which was something straight out of one of Sionis’ old tales of the Third War. That had been their most powerful defensive and Sylvanas’ troops had triggered it in the first volley. If they had more surprises up their sleeves, which Fÿnn was confident that they did, then it was only a matter of time before it all fell apart.
Still, the bread and cheese was a welcome sight, so the paladin gratefully accepted them and took a seat on the sandy beach.
“Any word from Sionis or Iliera?” he asked, taking his first bite.
“No,” Syanna answered. “They were in Booty Bay and then they went silent. The rumor is the Baron got them cornered while they were visiting.”
“Do you think they are in danger?” Fynn pressed, his concern growing.
“No,” Syanna said with a chuckle. “They would have taken half of Booty Bay with them if the Baron had tried anything funny. No, I imagine they’ve made some kind of a deal to resolve their past conflicts.”
Fynn still wasn’t sure what had possessed them to go down to Booty Bay in the first place. They had told him they had to meet with someone from the Horde, but they never explained why or what had led them to that situation, and in his initial shock and anger at what he perceived as disloyalty, he hadn’t thought to let them explain.
He certainly wished they were here now. While Fynn was no stranger to major conflicts, he hadn’t quite grown into the role of experienced veteran. He was somewhere in between, and that was an awkward place to be without others there to support you.
Syanna and the others had setup camp further inland, where the grass and dunes had merged. They were on patrol here, to see if any new ships were coming up the coastline, and to report any suspicious activities in the nearby vicinity.
With the sunlight gone, the ocean was nothing more than a black sheet now, and Fynn felt his eyelids growing heavy. He hadn’t had a good night of sleep since this whole thing had started. The sound of the ocean waves pulled at him, calling him to fall asleep. He closed his eyes for a moment, let the sounds surround him… and just as he was about to fall asleep, a distant boom made him open his eyes.
He looked around, but saw nothing at first, then he heard a whistling sound, which grew louder and louder until the thundering sound of an explosion ripped up the beach sand not far from where he was seated.
He rolled in the sand and jumped to his feet, his hand tightly gripping the handle of his massive sword. He looked into the forest, assuming the enemy had pushed through the wisp wall, but he saw nothing in the trees.
“On the ocean!” he heard someone yell.
He spun just in time to see the flash of a cannon muzzle atop the waves.
The shot landed not more than five feet where he had just been resting. He was thrown through the air by the detonation and he felt the wind leave his lungs when he landed flat on his back.
“Fall back to the woods!”
He heard the order and started to clamor to his feet. He saw someone on top of a dune, waving for him to follow, so he signaled back. A moment later, the figure and the dune where they stood, vanished in a fireball.
Worse, Fynn heard the sound of clanking metal and wood in the water and looked to the shallow waves where he saw at least five small landing boats already being pulled onto the shore.
“Enemy forces,” he shouted. “They’re here!”
This is why they’d been sent here. The Horde was trying everything to push deeper into the Night Elf territory. He wasn’t going to let them.
He called upon the Light now, feeling the power ignite in his heart. The Light answered without hesitation and a moment later Fynn threw out a blinding blast that lit up the beach all around him. In this moment, however, he saw the size of the invading force. There were at least two dozen of them, all armed to the teeth, and unfortunately his beacon of Light turned their attention right on him.
There was no way he would be able to stand against that many foes, no matter how strongly the Light empowered him. He lifted his sword anyway, ready to die for the Alliance if that’s what fate had in store for him. Then, he heard a battle horn from the dunes and he saw torches being lit to reveal a Night Elf patrol. Flaming arrows rained down on the beach, covering the attackers in fire as they scrambled forward, both to engage their enemies and to find cover from the assault.
Fynn decided to rush toward them, a bold flanking maneuver only made possible by his sudden support from the dunes. He closed the distance in only a few moments, using the light from the burning Horde soldiers and leftover arrows to guide his path of attack.
The first Horde soldier was divided between the two priorities and Fÿnn brought him down with a blast of holy energy that send his foe sailing back into the ocean. He pressed onward, cutting down at least two more before the others took notice of what was happening.
Just as they turned to face him, however, the Night Elves let loose another volley of arrows. They slammed the Horde in the back and they were sent scattering as they ignited in flame or fell victim to the arrows’ deadly tips.
Fynn also felt one of the arrows slam against and, thankfully, bounce aimlessly off his chest-plate. He gave a silent word of thanks to the thick armor and his reluctance to abandon it in the heat of the day.
Then, he heard a chilling voice speak behind him, so sudden and unexpected that it nearly made him yelp in surprise. “You’re mine, paladin.”
Fynn spun around, hoping he wasn’t too late to counter, but before he could even finish his turn, the world around him went completely black. He froze in place, unsure of what had just happened, but he held his sword up in a defensive position, realizing that he wasn’t dead. Not yet.
“What is this?” he asked.
There was a deep cackle from the darkness and then the world flipped upside down. Suddenly, Fynn lost his footing and collapsed backward, slamming down on a grassy surface in the middle of a dark wood. He shifted around, looking for his weapon, but it was nowhere to be seen.
“Stop looking for it,” the voice said. “It’s gone.”
“Where am I?” Fÿnn asked. “What is this?!”
“I summoned you to a new location,” the voice echoed. “You’re in Felwood now.”
“Who are you?” Fynn growled.
“It does not matter.”
There was a snap, and just a few feet in front of Fynn, an undead figure appeared. He stood with a hunched back and he had decrepit sunken eyes that betrayed little emotion. His mouth looked like it might literally fall off his eroded face at any moment.
“What do you want?”
“Information,” the undead replied flatly.
“You’ll get nothing from me,” Fynn said, spitting at the warlock.
“Perhaps,” the warlock replied. “Of course, that’s what your friend Aethelwolfe said too, and things didn’t pan out very well for him, now did they?”
The warlock flicked his wrist and Fÿnn saw an object land at his feet. He knelt down and picked it up, realizing instantly that it was one of the coins used to identify the Academy of Hope members. It was coated with a thick layer of dried blood.
“You killed him?” Fynn asked.
“I was trying to be dramatic, for more effect,” the undead said, rolling his eyes. “Yes. He’s very much dead now. He lacked the information I needed. His brother, was far more helpful.”
Another flick of the wrist; another coin at Fynn’s feet. This one lacked the layer of blood, but it had still been gouged with deep lines, marking an X on the surface.
“You’ll pay for this,” Fynn said, his blood boiling.
“So predictable,” the warlock said. “That’s what those two claimed too.”
As the warlock spoke, Fynn’s armor began to glow with Holy light, the pieces still infused with latent energy from the Naaru themselves. He stepped forward, completely unafraid of this undead monstrosity.
The undead warlock didn’t seem concerned at all, ignoring his movement entirely. “First, I want to know about the Death Knight named Balorius,” he said. “I know he’s part of your organization.”
Fynn was closing in rapidly, ignoring the warlock’s question. “You’ve made a mistake, monster. I don’t need a weapon to fight you. I have the Light!” He held out his hand and lightning burst out, wrapping tightly together to form a mace of pure holy energy. He rushed forward, taking a mighty swing, and it landed against the warlock’s head with a satisfying crunch.
The warlock collapsed lifeless to the ground and Fynn pulled back his mace to see the damage he had done. Then, his eyes went wide with horror. He had just slain a furbolg! The creature looked diseased and corrupted, but it wasn’t the warlock that he had just seen.
He spun around looking into the darkness of the felwood, but he saw nothing.
Then, he caught sight of movement, and from the darkness the undead warlock emerged. As Fynn stepped toward him, he help up hands to halt the paladin’s progress. “You’ll just kill another of these poor demented creatures,” the warlock said mockingly. “I’m not really here, young paladin. I’m projecting myself onto them using dark magic, obviously.”
“Why are you doing this, sorcerer?”
“I want information on Balorius.”
“The Death Knight,” Fynn said angrily. “Why? What do you care?”
“Because, human, that Death Knight… is my brother!”
Clearly, this was news to the paladin, but he betrayed no emotion. “Well I don’t know where your brother is, but I know it doesn’t really matter. We’re going to end this. Now.”
“You’re quite right about that,” the warlock said. “You have one of those coins, right?”
Fynn responded by taking a battle stance. “Face me, you filth! Show your true form!”
The warlock chuckled. “I already am.”
The blast of fel energy hit Fynn like a wall of bricks. He rolled across the ground several times before he got control. The warlock hadn’t been disguised after all, and Fynn had fallen for it so easily. He scrambled to his feet just in time to get hit with another blast of dark energy.
In the darkness of Felwood, the Light had difficulty filling Fynn with renewing energy. It was being choked out by the years of corruption that had tainted this place. The warlock was smart to summon them here before making his attack.
Still, Fynn stood once more and took his battle stance. He called upon the Light to protect him and, for what it was worth, the powers did manage to block a few more of the warlock’s attacks before another landed hard against Fynn’s armor and put him on his knees.
As the warlock closed in, a dagger in his hand, he stopped short of killing the paladin. “You know,” he started. “You’ll be the third Academby member to die at my hands. It’s unfortunate, really, that you decided to fight. If only you had known how deeply I hold a grudge.”
Fynn grimaced, but he said nothing. If he was entirely honest with the warlock, he’d really only heard the first sentence. After that, he’d seen a portal that had opened a short distance behind them. He’d been so focused on not revealing what he saw, that he had practically ignored everything the warlock had said.
“What was that?” Fynn asked, feeling hope course through him. “I missed the end about how you hold grudges?”
The warlock’s growled with rage. “Very well then, if you wish to die in severe pain—”
Purple tendrils spiked up from the ground with great speed, wrapping around the warlock and tightly gripping his arms and legs so that he was rooted in place.
“What is this?” he growled. “How?”
“You’re not the only warlock out there,” Ailynmarie’s calm voice replied. “I tracked your dark magic from the beach. Sloppy tactics.”
“Fascinating,” the warlock said, sounding genuinely interested in this development. “I hadn’t anticipated that the Academy included members of the dark arts.”
“We’re full of suprises,” Fynn said, standing up and moving over to Syanna and Ailyn’s side.
“Now what?” Ailyn asked. “Crush him into dust?”
Fynn was about to give her the go ahead when the warlock violently twisted and the void tendrils holding him in place were shattered.
“Fools!” he shouted. “You think me so weak?”
In an instant, several other Horde figures emerged from the dark. “Get them!” the warlock shouted.
Syanna didn’t hesitate, she pulled her magical energy around them and the portal back to Darkshore swept forward, pulling all three of them inside before it snapped shut. They landed back on the dunes, not far from the shore, where they saw the Night Elves piling up the fallen bodies of the Horde to be burned in the morning.
They were, as far as they could tell, safe from the warlock’s ambush.
“You okay, Fynn?” Syanna asked once she had sealed their escape.
“I’m fine,” the paladin replied, “but the Academy of Hope has a problem. A real problem.”
Syanna frowned. “So it seems. I can get a portal back to Stormwind to let our leader know.”
“Our leader?” Fynn asked, puzzled. “I thought Sionis was in charge?”
“He was,” Syanna replied. “Then he went silent, remember?”
Fynn frowned. He really wished he knew what had happened in Booty Bay, but now that issue was far too low on his list of priorities. He had to warn whoever is in charge about this warlock and his crimes against them. He could mourn for his fallen friends later… right now more lives depended on getting this information back to the Alliance.
“What about the Horde attack here?” he asked.
“We’ll get you to the Academy headquarters,” Syanna said. “You tell the Commander everything you heard here and I will get you back out here with the others as quickly as I can.”
“Meanwhile,” Ailyn added. “I’ll warn the others already here that there is someone who appears to be targeting Remnants members. Do you think he knows us?”
“I don’t know,” Fynn replied. “He only came after me after he got to Aethelwolfe and Dhespair. I don’t know how he knows who we are, but we need to assume that no member is safe. Not until we can figure this out.”
“Right, say no more.”
As Ailyn rushed toward the Night Elf camp where the other members were waiting, Syanna was already conjuring a portal that would take them back to Stormwind. Fynn’s mind swirled with all the things that unfolded… the Horde assault in Darkshore… this warlocks personal vendetta against… the Academy… and a Death Knight brother?
It was too much for him to wrestle with alone. He took a deep breath and tried to calm himself just as the mage finished her work.
“Come on,” she said. “Let’s get moving.”
Fynn nodded and stepped through the portal, wondering all the way if Darkshore would still be here by the time he returned, or if the flames of war would have consumed it all.